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  • George Stubbs
    Aug 25, 1724 - Jul 10, 1806
  • Horse Attacked by a Lion - George Stubbs was an English painter who is the greatest painter of horses in British art and arguably the best in the history of art. George Stubbs' subjects may reflect the romantic idealism of their age but they are lifted above the sentimental by their skilful composition and intense observation which generate the gravitas that marks all great art.
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Horse Attacked by a Lion
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  • Horse Attacked by a Lion

  • George Stubbs
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  • 1769
    Enamel on copper
    Tate Britain, England.

    Stubbs was obsessed with the subject of a lion attacking a horse, making at least seventeen works on the theme, most of which were in oil on regularly-shaped canvas. In this enamel on copper piece, Stubbs cut off the corners to form an irregular octagon, thus tightening the composition. The result is a forceful depiction which is perhaps his most successful treatment of the theme. This is Stubbs's earliest known experiment in painting in enamel colours, and was the first time the technique - previously limited to decorative objects and miniature portraits - was used by an artist of Stubbs's stature. He may have approached the medium out of scientific curiosity, although his exact reasons are not known. Before producing this piece, Stubbs spent two years studying the chemical changes to colours under high temperatures, and a further three years improving the support upon which the painting would be made. He used a copper plate support for this work, but was dissatisfied with the size limitations, and for later enamels commissioned the Master Potter Josiah Wedgwood to produce special large ceramic tablets.
    In preparation for the work, he made many studies of caged lions at the Tower of London and at Lord Shelbourne's menagerie on Hounslow Heath. Stubbs's interest in the subject is traditionally presumed to originate from a scene he reportedly witnessed in North Africa during his return by sea from Italy. This was largely disproven, however, with the reappearance of an oil painting Stubbs made of the subject, Horse Devoured by a Lion, in which the horse is pressed to the ground. It differs from all other known versions of the work, but is strikingly similar to a Roman copy of a Greek sculpture group that Stubbs could have seen at the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome in 1754.

    The innovative subject proved popular and influential. It allowed Stubbs to demonstrate his virtuosity as an animal and landscape painter, while enabling him, through his reference to a classical source, to elevate animal painting to history painting. The horse's noble submission to his inevitable fate suggests the heroic, moral overtones of stoical Roman virtue.

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Other paintings by George Stubbs:

Mambrino (White Horse in a Paddock)
Mambrino (White Horse in a Paddock)
Portrait of a Newfoundland Dog, the Duke of York
Portrait of a Newfoundland Dog, the Duke of York
A Dark Bay Thoroughbred in a Landscape
A Dark Bay Thoroughbred in a Landscape
George StubbsGeorge Stubbs was classified in his lifetime as a sporting painter, and as such was excluded from full membership of the Royal Academy. He is best remembered for his paintings of horses and his conversation pieces. Having studied anatomy, Stubbs's pictures of horses are among the most accurate ever painted, but his work is lyrical and transcends naturalism.

Stubbs was born in Liverpool, the son of a leather worker, and he spent his early career in the north, painting portraits and developing his interest in anatomy. In the later 1740s he lived in York and supplied the illustrations for a treatise on midwifery. Following a brief visit to Rome in 1754 he settled in Lincolnshire, where he researched his major publication, 'The Anatomy of the Horse'. In about 1758 he moved to London, which remained his base.

Early clients for his sporting and racing paintings included many of the noblemen who founded the Jockey Club. Like Gainsborough, he later painted scenes of peasant life, as well as studies of wild and exotic animals. He also became known as a printmaker and for his paintings in enamel on Wedgwood earthenware plaques.